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16. A Friend in Need or The Trail of Tears (2 Samuel 15:13 --16:23)

Introduction

When I was growing up, my parents bought an old fishing resort which the original owners had homesteaded, and my father named the resort, “Pioneer Park.” My folks had a great number of friends over the years, but once they owned a place on the lake, the number of “friends” seemed to increase. Normally, a nominal fee was charged for a family to come to our resort to swim, picnic, use our restroom facilities (outhouses), and build a fire in our outdoor stoves (using firewood I helped cut, haul, and stack). Every once in a while a car would drive in, and rather than pay the 50 cents admission we charged, they would say: “We really just wanted to get to know you better. . . .” The kids all had their swim suits on, picnic supplies were in the car, and sometimes they had already launched their boat at the state access next door (to avoid the small fee for launching it at our place).

We all have “friends,” as well as true friends. The one thing which always seems to separate the first from the last is adversity. When things get tough, “friends” get going. In our text, we see some of David's “friends,” and some of his true friends. The adversity he faces makes the distinction between these two kinds of friends very clear.

You may remember that David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, led to the added sin of the murder of Uriah. After God prepared David's heart for rebuke (see Psalm 32:3-4), Nathan approached David with a heart-rending story, one which stirred David's emotions and prompted him to condemn the guilty party. Nathan then indicted David for his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah, assuring him he would not die for his sin had been taken away, but telling him some of the painful consequences his sin would bring about:

10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.”' 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

David son has already died, his daughter Tamar has been raped by her brother, Amnon, and Amnon has been murdered by Absalom. Absalom fled for asylum with his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Absalom remained in Geshur for about two years, until Joab deceptively compelled David to bring his son back to Jerusalem. David seems to have kept his son under house arrest until Absalom would have no more of it, and he finally was given freedom to go about Jerusalem. During this period of relative freedom, Absalom turned the hearts of the Israelites away from David and toward himself. Having done so, he obtained permission from David to go to Hebron, ostensibly to fulfill a vow, but in truth to initiate his rebellion against David and claim the kingdom as his own.

When we come to our text, word comes to David that the people's allegiance has turned to Absalom, and that a full-scale rebellion is about to occur. It is at this point that David decides to flee from Jerusalem, along with many of his followers. Just who will be numbered among his followers who accompany him (and who will remain behind in Jerusalem) will be determined by whether or not they are true friends of David.

Our Approach in this Lesson

I believe the author has indicated his organizational structure in this portion of Scripture, and that it is both chronological and geographical. When David flees from Jerusalem, he will head to the north and west. He will go as far as the wilderness, on the western side of the Jordan River, and there he will await word concerning Absalom's plans. When he learns that Absalom will pursue and attack, David crosses the Jordan and heads farther north. The structure of our text is arranged according to stops David makes on his way from Jerusalem to the wilderness. The first scene is in Jerusalem, where David gets the report from Hebron and makes the decision to flee. Likewise, the last scene is in Jerusalem, where Absalom has arrived, and where he possesses David's ten concubines who have been left behind. The second scene is at “the last house,” as David is leaving Jerusalem. The third is at the brook Kidron, and the fourth is on the ascent of the Mount of Olives. The fifth scene takes place just over the summit of the Mount of Olives, and the sixth at Bahurim. At each place, there will be an encounter with a “friend” or a true friend of David.

Scene 1: At the Palace in Jerusalem
(15:13-16)

13 Then a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” 14 David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us quickly and bring down calamity on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 Then the king's servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king chooses.” 16 So the king went out and all his household with him. But the king left ten concubines to keep the house.

A messenger comes to David with a report he is not eager to hear: “The hearts of the people are with Absalom.” I suspect it is a message David dreaded would come sooner or later. He cannot be ignorant of the way Absalom is undermining his reign as king and setting himself up as David's replacement. David does not doubt or dispute the report. In fact, David even admits that if they do not flee immediately, Absalom will not only attack the city of Jerusalem, but will kill the king and any of his followers.

Notice that the messenger's report, as conveyed to the reader, does not indicate that Absalom has already “blown the trumpet,” declaring himself king (see 15:10). Neither is it said that Absalom is actually marching on the city. But it is apparent that this is assumed. If it has not already happened, it will happen very soon. This is the time to act.

David reluctantly accepts the report and acts on it. His servants tell him they are ready to do whatever he commands. I take it this would include defending David and Jerusalem from Absalom's attack. But instead of giving the order to prepare for battle, David gives the order to prepare to flee from Jerusalem. Here is the man who did not hesitate to stand up to Goliath when no one else was willing to do so, including Saul himself. Here is the man who, when insulted by Nabal (1 Samuel 25), was provoked to anger, and set out to kill this man and every male member of his household. Why is David so eager to flee rather than to fight?

The first thing we should understand is that in fleeing from Jerusalem, David has not indicated his intention to abdicate the throne. This is why he leaves ten concubines behind, to “keep the house” (15:16). He is leaving town, but he is not leaving his throne. Absalom may seize it, but this will not be because David has handed in his resignation. The concubines are a symbol of David's continuing reign over Israel.

There are a number of reasons David makes the decision to flee, even though he will not abdicate. First, David knows that God will bring about troubles in his kingdom, from within his own family. If the rebellion of Absalom is a part of the divine discipline he has brought upon himself, David is not sure whether he should resist it. If this is of God, will David be fighting against God to fight against this rebellion? David clearly indicates his intention to wait until he has a sense of certainty about what he should do:

25 The king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 “But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 “See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:25-28).

Furthermore, David may be concerned about the welfare of those who dwell in Jerusalem. Will he be placing them in danger by staying behind and fighting to defend the city? From Psalm 51:18, one might conclude that the walls of Jerusalem were not completed, thus making it more difficult to defend at this point in time. Finally, we know that David loves Absalom. He does not want to precipitate a fight with him because he does not wish to kill him (see 2 Samuel 18). Why start a fight you are not willing to win? Absalom is ready and willing to kill David, and others if necessary; David is not willing to kill Absalom. And so it is that David chooses flight over a fight.

Scene Two: At the “Last House”
(15:17-22)

17 The king went out and all the people with him, and they stopped at the last house.78 18 Now all his servants passed on beside him, all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had come with him from Gath, passed on before the king. 19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why will you also go with us? Return and remain with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile; return to your own place. 20 “You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander with us, while I go where I will? Return and take back your brothers; mercy and truth be with you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.” 2 Therefore David said to Ittai, “Go and pass over.” So Ittai the Gittite passed over with all his men and all the little ones who were with him.

It appears that David and those who intend to flee with him have formed a procession leading out of town. At the “last house” David pauses, as he allows those going with him to pass on ahead of him. This might be the last of the houses that his wives and children inhabited in Jerusalem, but it appears to be the last house on “the edge of town,” so to speak. David stops at the outskirts of Jerusalem, pausing as those fleeing with him pass by. This will give David the opportunity to allow some to accompany him and to encourage others to turn back.

It is here that some of David's “old faithfuls” will appear. Among these are the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites. The Cherethites and Pelethites are mentioned earlier (8:18) and later (23:22-23) in 2 Samuel. They were foreigners, not native Israelites, who were led by Benaiah. These men may have been a kind of honor guard for David, his secret service agents, whose task it was to defend the king.79 A “Gittite” was a person from the Philistine city of Gath. Goliath was probably the most famous Gittite (see 2 Samuel 21:19). And so the first major group of those loyal to David, who would accompany him as he fled from Jerusalem, were foreigners -- Gentiles. These were not recent followers. These all seem to be men whose association with David goes back to his days spent hiding out from Saul, in the land of the Philistines. These were men who “had come with him from Gath” (15:18).

In addition to this larger group of faithful Gentiles from a long time back was one man who was a Gentile as well, but a relative newcomer.80 He was Ittai the Gittite. Our author chooses to focus our attention on Ittai for several verses (19-22). This man must have been both loyal and capable for David to make him a commander of a portion of his troops in chapter 18.81 There were a number of reasons why Ittai could have felt little obligation to follow David. He was a foreigner -- it wasn't his fight. He was a relative newcomer. He was accompanied by a number of “little ones,” who would certainly be a burden, and who would be in danger if Absalom pursued David.

David called Ittai aside and urged him to stay in Jerusalem or to return to his own land. This was not his fight. He did not need to endanger himself or those with him. David urged him not to follow, but Ittai would not hear of abandoning David. Note how similar his response to David is to Ruth's response to Naomi:

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

21 But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be” (2 Samuel 15:21).

Ittai's commitment appears to be more than a personal attachment to David; it seems to be part and parcel of Ittai's faith. He begins his statement with the words, “As the LORD lives. . . .” I believe Ittai, like Ruth, became true believers in the God of Israel, and they had no intention of going back to their own land and their own gods.

Scene Three: Just Over the Brook Kidron
(15:23-29)

23 While all the country was weeping with a loud voice, all the people passed over. The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. 24 Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar came up until all the people had finished passing from the city. 25 The king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 “But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 “See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 Therefore Zadok and Abiathar returned the ark of God to Jerusalem and remained there.

Leaving Jerusalem, David and those with him would have to descend into the Kidron Valley, and then ascend the Mount of Olives on the other side. The third scene takes place in the Kidron Valley, just after the crossing of the brook Kidron. Zadok the priest arrived, along with all the Levites, who were carrying the ark of the covenant. They set the ark down and waited for all those leaving the city to pass by. Then David spoke to Zadok, instructing him to take the ark of God back to Jerusalem. If God was really with David, then He would bring David back to Jerusalem, back to the place where God had chosen to dwell? If God was not with him, David knew the ark would do him no good.

This is a far cry from the mindset we saw in 1 Samuel 4. There, when the Israelites suffered a defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the people fetched the ark, assuming it would somehow magically give them the victory. Instead, the Israelites were defeated, Eli's two sons were killed, and the ark was taken by the Philistines. On top of this, Eli fell dead with the news that his sons were dead and the ark was in enemy hands. David does not see the ark as some kind of magic charm that assures him of God's presence or of divine deliverance. Jerusalem is where the ark belongs, and David is not about to attempt to take it with him.

In addition to this, David knew that Zadok was not only a priest, but a prophet (in those days prophets were known as seers -- see 1 Samuel 9:6-9) as well. This meant that Zadok could give David reports that could be trusted. After all, who would not want a status report from a prophet, rather than from a less reliable source? Zadok needed to be in Jerusalem to be with the ark, but he also needed to be there in order to keep David up to date on what was going on, from the inside. Zadok could use his two sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, to convey a report of Absalom's plans to David, who would be waiting by the fords of the wilderness. This way David could discern whether to retreat further into the wilderness, to remain where he was, or even to return to Jerusalem.

Scene Four: The Ascent of the Mount of Olives
(15:30-37)

30 And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. 31 Now someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, I pray, make the counsel of Ahithophel foolishness.” 32 It happened as David was coming to the summit, where God was worshipped, that behold, Hushai the Archite met him with his coat torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you pass over with me, then you will be a burden to me. 34 “But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, 'I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father's servant in time past, so I will now be your servant,' then you can thwart the counsel of Ahithophel for me. 35 “Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So it shall be that whatever you hear from the king's house, you shall report to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. 36 “Behold their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok's son and Jonathan, Abiathar's son; and by them you shall send me everything that you hear.” 37 So Hushai, David's friend, came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.

It is a very sad scene indeed. David ascends the Mount of Olives, weeping as he makes his way toward the top of the ascent. His head is covered and his feet are bare, as is the case with all those accompanying him. The report reaches David that Ahithophel has joined Absalom in his revolt. This is a most devastating blow, because Ahithophel's counsel was so reliable:

The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23).

While the loss of Ahithophel was a devastating loss for David's administration, it should not come as a great surprise, based upon the relationship of these two texts:

So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2 Samuel 11:3).

Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maacathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (2 Samuel 23:34).

We learn from these two verses that Eliam was the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and that Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam. In short, Bathsheba was Ahithophel's granddaughter. Does one have to ponder this very long to see why Ahithophel would desert David and side with his son, who intends to take over his father's throne, even if it requires the taking of his father's life? Ahithophel may have felt toward David as Absalom felt toward Amnon.82

David's response is to utter a prayer that God will somehow thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. The answer to his prayer is not that far off, for David has hardly gotten the prayer uttered when David's trusted friend, Hushai the Archite, arrives. His coat is torn, and he had cast dust on his head, all as a sign of mourning. This is indeed a most terrible thing that has happened. Hushai is ready to accompany David wherever he is going. David changes Hushai's plans. The king informs Hushai that if he does accompany him into hiding, he will only be an added burden. Hushai can perform a much more valuable service to David by returning to Jerusalem and pretending to become one of Ahithophel's loyal supporters. This way, Hushai will be in a position to counter the counsel of Ahithophel. David informs Hushai that Zadok and Abiathar the priests are also loyal supporters. When Zadok or Abiathar hear something from the palace, they can send a message to David by the sons of these two priests: Ahimaaz, Zadok's son; or, Jonathan, Abiathar's son. And so it is that Hushai goes to Jerusalem, where he is when Absalom arrives.

Scene Five: Just Over the Summit of the Mount of Olives
(16:1-4)

    Ziba, Mephibosheth, and David

1 Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred clusters of raisins, a hundred summer fruits, and a jug of wine. 2 The king said to Ziba, “Why do you have these?” And Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king's household to ride, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine, for whoever is faint in the wilderness to drink.” 3 Then the king said, “And where is your master's son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, 'Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.”' 4 So the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!”

David and his followers have just passed the summit of the Mount of Olives. There he is met by Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. We first met Ziba in 2 Samuel 9. Ziba was a servant of King Saul. In order for David to fulfill his covenant with Jonathan, he needed to find an heir of Saul to whom he could show favor for Jonathan's sake. He was told of Ziba, who was formerly Saul's servant. Ziba was summoned, and there he informed David about Mephibosheth. When David brought Mephibosheth into his home, to eat at his table, he also restored to Mephibosheth all that was his as the heir of Saul and Jonathan. David also appointed Ziba and his family to serve Mephibosheth as his servant, as they had done before Saul's death.

Now we meet Ziba again. This time, Ziba meets David with provisions for the journey ahead. David inquires of Ziba why he is bringing these supplies, and Ziba informs him that it is for the king and those with him, since the journey ahead will prove difficult.83 David then asked Ziba where his master, Mephibosheth, was. Ziba told David that Mephibosheth had gone to Jerusalem, hoping that his father Saul's kingdom would be restored to him. On the basis of Ziba's account, David gave to Ziba and his sons all that had been given to Mephibosheth.

Scene Six: At Bahurim--Stoned by Shimei
(16:5-14)

5 When King David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. 6 He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. 7 Thus Shimei said when he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! 8 “The LORD has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed!” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the LORD has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, 'Why have you done so?”' 11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. 12 “Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” 13 So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him. 14 The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary and he refreshed himself there.

Bahurim was a small town, below, but not far from Jerusalem. Phaltiel, the (second) husband of Michal, was allowed to follow her this far, and was then turned back (2 Samuel 3:14-16). This is the place where the two spies, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, were hidden in a well until Absalom's men gave up searching for them (2 Samuel 17:17-20). Here, a man named Shimei appears, not to mourn with David nor to provide supplies for his journey, but to mock and curse him, throwing dirt and stones at David and those with him.

As I read this account, I am amazed at how stupid this man appears. Here is but one man, verbally attacking David and physically abusing him (although I would suspect that David's bodyguards did not let Shimei get close enough to David to do him any physical harm). Does this man not know that any one of David's bodyguards could cut off his head in a moment, should David give permission to do so? I think I have seen similar actions in the news when protesters, armed only with sticks and rocks, have challenged those they consider their enemies, in riot gear, and armed with tanks and automatic weapons. In spite of the power of their adversary, they will not be silenced or stopped, if not by death.

Shimei's accusations are interesting. Look at his words carefully. He accuses David of being a “man of bloodshed.” We immediately think in terms of Uriah and his death, ordered by David himself. But that is not what Shimei mentions specifically. He speaks of David's shedding of blood in terms of Saul and his house (verse 8). I am inclined to view Shimei as being entirely out of line, calling David (God's anointed king) a “worthless fellow,” and accusing him of the blood of Saul and his family, for which he was not responsible. Abishai wanted to shut this man's mouth permanently, by cutting off his head. David refused permission, convinced of the sovereignty of God in all these matters. He knew that Shimei's actions were wrong, even that his accusations were inaccurate. In spite of this David believed that it was possible that God was speaking to him through this man, and thus he would not seek to silence one through whom God might be speaking. Instead, he proceeded on his way, looking to God for his vindication. Weary no doubt from the physical aspects of this trek, but also from the emotionally draining elements of this whole journey, David and his supporters arrive at the destination, where they will await further word from Jerusalem.

Scene Seven: Back in Jerusalem
(“Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch”)
(16:15-23)

15 Then Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, entered Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. 16 Now it came about when Hushai the Archite, David's friend, came to Absalom, that Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” 17 Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” 18 Then Hushai said to Absalom, “No! For whom the LORD, this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. 19 “Besides, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father's presence, so I will be in your presence.” 20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?” 21 Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. 23 The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom.

I am going to touch on this final paragraph quite briefly, because it is a key transition into chapter 17. The translations usually begin verse 1 of chapter 17 with a “furthermore” or a “moreover.” Actually the simplest Hebrew connective (a vav) is used, which would most often be rendered “and.” The point I am making is that the chapter break here is awkward, and it tends to separate that which should be considered together. Chapters 16:25-33 and 17:1-4 constitute Ahithophel's counsel to Absalom, which has two parts: (1) Possess David's concubines, thereby proclaiming yourself “king,” and (2) “Let me take 12,000 men tonight and kill David alone.”

For this lesson, I will focus only on 16:20-23, with the understanding that I will deal with one aspect of Ahithophel's counsel and Absalom's actions. In the next lesson, we will return to these verses, focusing on them in relationship to what follows.

Our author never actually tells us that Absalom “blew the trumpet,” which was to be the sign for all Israel to declare their allegiance to him as Israel's new king (15:10). David's flight from Jerusalem certainly prompted Absalom's bold advance to the city and his possession of it. Once in the city, Absalom turned to Ahithophel for counsel as to what he should next do. Ahithophel counseled Absalom to symbolically declare himself king in a way that would make a statement to David and to all Israel. Ahithophel recommended that Absalom take the ten wives (or concubines -- the terms seem to be used almost interchangeably here) and publicly sleep with them, as a symbol of his possession of the throne (along with the harem). The taking of a king's harem certainly symbolized the taking of this man's place, of replacing him. Ruben did this by taking one of Jacob's concubines (Genesis 35:22; cf. 49:4). Adonijah will attempt to do this with Abishag, one of David's concubines (1 Kings 2:13-25).

The thing I wish to emphasize here is that Absalom's actions regarding David's wives are not only a gesture which symbolically proclaims his taking of the throne, it is also the fulfillment of Nathan's prophetic words in chapter 12:

9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun”' (2 Samuel 12:9-12, emphasis mine).

There was never any doubt that God would bring about that which He had spoken through Nathan. The author of our text does not want us to miss the fact that this event is, in part, the fulfillment of Nathan's words. David sinned with one woman, taking her as his wife when she was the wife of another. Now, Absalom takes ten wives of David and makes them his own wife by sleeping with them. David sinned in private; Absalom purposely made a spectacle of his sin, so that all Israel would know what he was about. David's humiliation in this is great. Let us never deceive ourselves into thinking that our sin is worth the price. If David could have seen where his sin was leading, he would never have chosen the path he did. Let us learn from David's mistake (sin), rather than learn the hard way as he did, that sin never pays.

Conclusion

As we conclude this lesson, let us pause to consider some implications and applications of our text.

Our text has much to teach us about true friendship. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about true friends, and other “friends:”

Many will seek the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts (Proverbs 19:6).

All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends abandon him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone (Proverbs 19:7).

Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, And do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away (Proverbs 27:10).

In our text, we find out who David's real friends are. The amazing thing is that many of them are not even Jews, but Gentiles. A number of his true friends became his friend while he was facing adversity, fleeing for his life.

I would hope that in this church and many others, one's true friends would be found among the brothers and sisters with whom we worship and serve God together. This is not always the case. Even the apostle Paul experienced abandonment by his friends (see 2 Timothy 4:9-11, 16). There were but a few churches, like the Macedonian church at Philippi, which continued to support Paul (Philippians 4:10-16). There were but a few men, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom Paul could count on when things got tough (Philippians 2:19-30). The one thing Paul knew for certain was that there was one “Friend” who would never forsake him:

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16-18).

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU” (Hebrews 13:5).84

The one “Friend” who would not desert Moses or Joshua or Paul or David is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not intimidated by anyone, nor is He deterred by suffering and sorrow. He is the One who endured rejection and suffering so that we might be saved. He is the model, the benchmark for a true friend.

We are reminded by our text that God always keeps His Word, and that sin does not pay. Through Nathan, God informed David that his sin with Bathsheba would result in his suffering consequences which would be similar to his sin, but much greater in magnitude. He sinned by taking one man's wife, privately; he suffered when one man took his ten wives, publicly. Sin does not pay. It is never worth the price. This message depicts David and those with him as walking the “trail of tears.” There is much sorrow, much weeping in our text, and it is all the result of sin, David's sin.

Our text calls our attention to the comforting truth of God's sovereignty. To be sovereign is to have all authority and to be in complete control. God is sovereign over all creation. God is sovereign over men. Nothing can thwart God's plans, purposes, and promises. God told David what would happen as a result of his sin, and in our text we see it happening. It should come as no surprise. God also promised David that he would not die, and that his kingdom would be everlasting. Therefore, we see God protecting the life of David, even in the midst of his suffering. God provided for David through some very unexpected means, but especially through friends, many of whom were not even Israelites.

In His sovereignty, God employed even David's enemies, even those who were ungodly, to bring about His purposes and promises. God raised up Hushai to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. He used Gentile mercenaries to fight with and for David. He even used a loud-mouthed enemy of David -- Shimei -- to humble David, even though his motives and message were wrong. God used all this to chasten David and to bring about his recovery.

In His sovereignty, God was using these very difficult times to bring David to greater maturity in his faith and practice. God was using “evil” to bring about David's “good.” Romans 8:28 is certainly being acted out in the life of David, and especially in our text. Included in the “all things” which God employs to accomplish our “good” and His glory are the trials and tribulations of this life. God did not allow these painful things to happen in order to destroy David, but to draw him near, to make him humble and dependent.

It is easy to get caught up in the sorrow of this flight from Jerusalem and to be overcome with the tears that are shed. But there is a good side to all the sorrow as well. When we look at David's response to these events in the darkest hours of his life, we see some qualities which were lacking elsewhere. We see here in David a brokenness and a humility which is not always evident in his successes. The “David” who was so eager to kill Nabal and all his male servants for being rude to him is now willing to endure the insults of Shimei, because he knows there is an element of truth in what his enemy is saying. David is willing to learn from an enemy and to patiently endure persecution and affliction.

In many ways, David's suffering provides us with a prototype of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is difficult to read these verses without thinking of our Lord's rejection by His own people, the Jews, and of His acceptance by a number of Gentiles. It is easy to see Absalom's betrayal of his father and king as a prototype of the betrayal of our Lord by Judas. As David and a procession make their way out of the city of Jerusalem and up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, it is easy to recall the procession that left Jerusalem, making their way to the cross of Calvary. In the midst of the sadness and sorrow of our text, there is the foreshadowing of hope that comes from the work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary. Just as David was rejected as Israel's king, only to defeat his enemies and to return once again as the King of Israel, so our Lord will return to subdue His enemies and establish His eternal throne on this earth. May our hope and trust be in the Son of David, who came to save sinners and to establish His righteous kingdom upon this earth.


78 The NIV renders this, “a place some distance away.”

79 A friend pointed out to me that Achish, King of Gath, appointed David as his bodyguard for life (1 Samuel 28:1-2). Was there some feeling that a loyal foreign bodyguard would not be as easily involved in the kind of intrigue which sought to overthrow kings? Anyway, it must not have been that unusual for David to have used the Cherethites and Pelethites for such purposes.

80 In the text David says that Ittai “came only yesterday” (15:20). It is obvious that Ittai had been with David longer than this because he will be made a commander of one of the three forces employed against Absalom in chapter 18, verse 2. “Came only yesterday” must therefore be a figure of speech, meaning “relative newcomer.”

81 One does have to wonder if Ittai was not made commander over the other Gittites who accompanied David as he fled from Jerusalem.

82 “It is not impossible that ever since the violent death of Uriah, Ahithophel had been looking for an opportunity for revenge. With the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, his opportunity had arrived.” John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb, Israel: From Conquest to Exile (Winona Lake, Indiana, BMH Books, 1969, 1970, 1971), p. 313.

83 I am somehow perplexed at those who seem eager to accuse Ziba of having ulterior motives here. This is based, in part, upon the appearance of Mephibosheth in chapter 19, where he meets David returning to Jerusalem and his throne. He lays the blame for his absence on Ziba. The outcome is that while David gave Ziba all that once belonged to Mephibosheth in our text, he will divide the inheritance in chapter 19. It would seem that it is impossible to completely sort out this story. David appears to have found it so, and thus he divided the estate of Saul, giving half to Ziba. I find it difficult to fault Ziba completely and to believe Mephibosheth’s story altogether when David did not do so.

84 Whether or not the Book of Hebrews was written by Paul, the apostle knew this truth, which comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5).